The Prime Minister has announced a new agreement with Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Asylum seekers who now arrive by boat and are found to be refugees will be resettled in PNG. People who come by boat now have no prospect of being re-settled in Australia.
Asylum seekers will be transferred to PNG following a short health, security and identity check in Australia (Christmas Island), and will be housed in regional processing centres that are managed and administered by PNG under PNG law with support from Australia.
Under this arrangement, if an asylum seeker is found to be a genuine refugee they will be permanently settled in PNG. Persons not found to be refugees may be returned to their home country or a country where they had a right of residence, or held in detention.
There is no cap on the numbers that may be transferred or settled. These changes will send the clearest possible message that coming to Australia by boat is not the way to gain Australian residency. We are working with PNG to ensure settlement occurs where appropriate housing and services are identified. Port Moresby is not being considered for settlement. Australia will bear the full cost of implementing this arrangement in PNG for the life of the agreement. There is no limit on the number of people who can be transferred to PNG under this arrangement. This agreement is reviewable after the first 12 months. This agreement is consistent with the UN Convention on Refugees. PNG is a signatory to the UN Convention – with reservations. Under this new arrangement, PNG will withdraw all their reservations with respect to asylum seekers transferred from Australia. Regarding children, it is appropriate that children not be transferred to Manus Island at present as the facilities there aren’t ready for them. Our principle on children is that, ultimately, everyone gets settled in Papua New Guinea, and that transfers occur when appropriate accommodation and services are available.
If our changes mean there are significantly less people arriving by boat, the Government will consider increasing the humanitarian intake to 27,000 as recommended by the Houston Panel.
The Government recognises that changes to Australia’s asylum seeker policy must be immediately communicated to our communities so that asylum seekers considering coming to Australia are made aware of the changes. Following the announcement, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) commenced the implementation of communication activity with messaging stressing the change that asylum seekers arriving by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia and a media campaign was also implemented.
There has been wide-spread distribution of media materials via Australian Embassies and High Commissions, who have distributed material focussed on delivering messaging on migration policy in key source and transit regions for people smuggling activities. These areas include South-East Asia and the Middle East.
Australia has always had a generous approach to the assessment of asylum seekers from around the world. Last year we lifted our humanitarian intake to 20,000 people a year. But the fact is we have a responsibility to adjust and change our policies in response to the evolving circumstances. People smugglers are selling a product and making millions. They are putting children’s lives at risk. Australians know that the issue is too complex to be addressed by mere slogans. Indonesia has made it clear that Mr Abbott's solution and any unilateral action is unacceptable to them. That is why our response is one based on regional co-operation. It is also a response that will send the clearest possible message that coming to Australia by boat is not the way to gain Australian residency. People smugglers can no longer tell asylum seekers that they will achieve quick settlement in Australia.